Mama Squirrel and I have been looking at a trip to Atlanta to check out Louvre Atlanta. While we’re there, we plan to visit chef Scott Peacock’s Watershed Restaurant. Looking at his menu of Southern classics presented in gourmet and reinvented versions had us hungry right away. I can only imagine what he does with a pimento cheese sandwich or a pork chop with mac-n-cheese and collard greens. And he uses an old staple, butter beans, to make butter bean hummus with crudites and homemade pita. This is a trip to look forward to. All those tempting dishes weren’t helping us today, though. We were starving, starving for good home cooking.
Our best option seemed to be Silver Caboose on the square in Collierville; so when lunchtime rolled around we shook our tails and got straight over there. Unfortunately when we got there, the only real shaking was the salt shaker. The daily meat-and-two menu looked promising, and the quality of the ingredients was good, but everything was just flat. I have already stated my annoyance with undersalted food, but it is more than that. Good food is seasoned, not just salted. Just a bit of salt will bring out those flavors.
The Silver Caboose is a nice space. Warmly painted walls and a bright tin ceiling are conducive to a good meal. Too bad the food isn’t. I am being too harsh I suppose. The only real sin of the meal was my serving of pot roast. I got some nice carrots, but a large part of my serving was celery. Celery adds flavor but not pleasant chewing material. I only got two good forkfuls of roast. Aside from that, the food was just bland. It was bland enough that we weren’t in the mood for the promising-sounding desserts. We didn’t trust their promises anymore.
I’m not so worried about a bad meal. We tried something different, and it didn’t work out. That doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t really bother me when one of our regular, good places has a bad day. What I am worried about now is what I see as a gradual downturn in everyday Southern cooking.
Scott Peacock is elevating Southern cooking in Atlanta; John Besh in New Orleans. The New York Times recently did an article on Frank Stitt and the resurgence of cuisine in Birmingham, Alabama. Here at the Squirrel’s nest we do all sorts of high falootin’ Southern kweezeen. What I want, though, is to be able to go out somewhere simple for a good meat and two. I want creamy gravy and rich mashed potatoes. I want greens with a little bite. I want moist, fresh cornbread.
A lot of my favorite places are gone. When I was a kid, there was Piccadilly. (Hey, I said I was a kid, didn’t I?) Better yet, there was Tina’s Kitchen. That was the first blue plate that I remember well. I was maybe ten.
In my teens and on into college, Buntyn’s was the place. A tiny little place across the road from busy railroad tracks. There was little parking, and the place was always packed, with good reason; the food was incredible. Buntyn’s went downhill when they moved closer to the suburbs. Once they opened a second location way out in the ‘burbs, they died a painful death, with good reason; the quality had plummeted.
Mama Squirrel was a Britling’s Cafeteria devotee. Her grandfather took her there when she was very small. Like Buntyn’s, the quality dropped and the restaurant died.
The same is true of another college favorite, the Cupboard. Tiny place, little parking, incredible food. They moved literally across the street to a bigger space in an old Shoney’s. They’re still around, but they’re not the same. The only place around that is still the same is the unmoved Cottage.
I have to admit that it’s my own fault. I haven’t put enough effort into finding good places. I know they must be out there. I suppose I have a new mission.
Silver Caboose Restaurant
132 E Mulberry Street
Collierville, Tennessee 38017
1400 Union Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38104
Cottage Restaurant — Moved
3297 Summer Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38122